Unspecified Transportation Security Administration officers at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City are facing federal lawsuits after three elderly women raised allegations claiming that the officers performed humiliating strip-searches on them. According to New York Daily News, the women were reportedly chosen for extra screening on the basis of the fact that they were wearing medical devices, which officers deemed suspicious. One lawsuit claims that TSA officers subjected 88-year-old grandmother Ruth Sherman to an unusually-intrusive investigation because they felt that her colostomy bag might have been evidence that she was about to carry out a terror plot. 84-year-old Lenore Zimmerman’s back brace also worried TSA screeners, as did 69-year-old Linda Kallish’s insulin pump. The above-embedded video coverage, provided by WPBF 25 News shortly after the incidents originally occurred, features brief interviews with Sherman, Zimmerman, and Kallish.
Attorneys representing the three women filed separate lawsuits in federal court on November 25 which named specific TSA officers as defendants, rather than the Transportation Security Administration itself. The TSA apologized for the incidents, which took place on November 29, 2011, but claims that the strip-searches never happened.
Lenore Zimmerman said that she was injured during her strip search and that TSA screeners refused to help. Zimmerman told New York Daily News, “My sock was soaked with blood… I was bleeding like a pig.” Speaking sarcastically, she said, “I walk with a walker — I really look like a terrorist… I’m tiny. I weigh 110 pounds, 107 without clothes, and I was strip-searched.”
Ruth Sherman described how she felt when TSA officers allegedly strip-searched her to investigate her colostomy bag in comments to CBS News, “This is private for me. It’s bad enough that I have [the colostomy bag]… I had to pull [it] from my sweatpants and I had to pull my underwear, my underwear down… You don’t do that to anybody. I felt like I was invaded.”
According to Daily Mail, officers asked Linda Kallish to disrobe so that they could inspect her insulin pump’s implantation site. Kallish also claims that her insulin supply, which she relies on for survival, was left unsupervised on a conveyor belt for for a half hour during her ordeal.
The TSA published a blog defending itself against the allegations raised by Zimmerman, Sherman, and Kallish, which said, “TSA does not, and has never, conducted strip searches and no strip searches occurred in any of these incidents.” The blog also stated, “We truly regret these passengers feel they had a bad screening experience. Our goal is to provide the highest level of security while ensuring that all passengers are treated with dignity and respect. We work regularly with a coalition of advocacy groups that represent those with disabilities and medical conditions to help TSA understand their conditions and adapt screening procedures accordingly.”